[iDC] Thoughts on Situated Tech..and humor&dissent

Megan Boler megan.boler at gmail.com
Wed Oct 25 16:57:46 EDT 2006

My colleage Mark Lipton and I happened to be in NYC from Toronto and
were fortunate to attend one afternoon panel and the evening at
Eyebeam.  I was impressed at the polished quality of presentations,
and at the mix of perspectives ranging from discussions of examples of
situated technology projects to more theoretical talks.  It would have
been great to have some of the actual projects there at the conference
in the gorgeous Urban League. I was especially impressed at the
decision to have presenters engage in a day of collaboration and then
present!!  This is __rare__ in academia, and highly refreshing. (I
found myself wandering through NY absolutely thinking about dog
sniffing networks, and what this means in terms of urban networks and
implications of technology.:)  Thanks for all the work organizing!

On to some questions about humor, dissent, and The Daily Show...
I would have welcomed opportunity to speak with people at the
conference about questions I raised in my talk at another NY
communications conference on dissent this past weekend.  I am in the
midst of a major three year project (Rethinking Media and Democracy)
examining what i call "digital dissent"--the use of political
multimedia to create online productions that create new public spaces
especially in relation to frustration with mainstream media news.  One
of the foci of my project  is online networks about Jon Stewart's The
Daily Show (TDS)  [for some examples of our research see Boler, Megan.
"The Daily Show, Crossfire, and the Will to Truth." Scan Journal of
Media Arts Culture. Vol. 3, no. 1 (summer 2006) http://scan.net.au/ ].
 It was interesting that the keynote of the dissent conference Jeff
Cohen, founder of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) and who
worked at CNN, MSNBC etc is now extolling TDS as the best news
broadcast in the US and the only sign of "hope" in the media

As big a fan as I am, and as much as I embrace contradiction, I am
wondering when and how humor (or pleasure?) potentially trumps
political intentions and lulls one into inaction. The bottom line for
TDS is "the laugh," and not a political agenda (so say the writers of
TDS in an interview; and Stewart insists his is a comedy and not a
news show and is all about equal opportunity humor...Yet, his 2004
appearance on Crossfire indicates he does have strong political views
about the role of media in democracy). Interestingly, our research
(including survey and interviews with bloggers, meme producers,
political multimedia producers and TDS bloggers) indicates that TDS
fans are arguably the least politically motivated of all groups
engaged in online networks.  There are some surprising instances as
well when an author of a political meme states that his motivation was
not political but to produce humor.

I am fascinated  to see that there is a new TV show being aired in
Iraq billed as the "Iraqi version of TDS", hosted by Saaed Khalifa
that uses similar kinds of parody and satire to present the news.  In
the NY Times article yesterday, Khalifa states that their intention IS
political: "The purpose of the show is to fix Iraq.  We want to fix
the civil services.  We want to fix the government officials.  We want
to fix the relationships between people.  We want to fix the
government and stop the corruption." (A TV Comedy Turns an
Uncoventional Weapon on Iraq's High and Mighty: Fake News," Michael
Luo NYTimes, Oct 23 2006  A14)  But--Jon Stewart could say the same
rhetorical platitudes without being partisan.

Which raises a related question about art, democracy, and situated
technologies: When and why would one want to see the access to and
circulation of material on Youtube as political, artistic, and/or
producing a significant political community?

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